|Weekly Reflections on Life and Music|
When the zone calls, you must listen. You never know how long being in the zone lasts. It is a cardinal rule - you must take advantage of every second that you are in the zone.
― John Passaro
There is a family story that my wife has enjoyed telling since, well, for a long time. It goes back to right after we were married. It was a wondrous Sunday afternoon and we were doing nothing. We were both in the living room. I was reading and she was doing something. I was aware she was talking to me. I would make a sound of assent and keep reading. Suddenly she stopped and was laughing.
“Did you hear what I just said?” she asked.
“Uh….[pause] [guiltily] No, what?”
“I said that the pink elephants are coming down the street trampling on all the flowers.”
Which I had said “Uh, huh” to without hearing.
I didn’t know about “flow” at that time. But I was in a state of flow in my reading. A few months ago I talked about flow as part of Barry Green’s music mastery pathway of “concentration.” He called it the “spirit of the zone. In that post I wrote:
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi named the concept of “flow in 1975 and been widely referred to in any different fields. It is also known as “being in the zone.” Flow
is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time. (Link)Requirements for flow can be:
◆ Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
◆ Merging of action and awareness
◆ A loss of reflective self-consciousness
◆ A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
◆ A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered
◆ Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding
Very clearly I was in some kind of zone, or even state of flow as I was reading. I still experience that feeling when involved in a book- I am hyper-focused, I am not all that aware of what is happening around me, time is lost, and it is intrinsically rewarding. You can begin to see why this can apply to playing or listening to music, I am sure.
Digging a little deeper in that Wikipedia article I came across Owen Schaffer’s list (he studied under Csikszentmihalyi.) In 2013 he proposed 7 conditions for flow that summarize the above list:
◆ Knowing what to do
◆ Knowing how to do it
◆ Knowing how well you are doing
◆ Knowing where to go
◆ High perceived challenges
◆ High perceived skills
◆ Freedom from distractions
Again the connections with music are hopefully clear. One thing it means is that to get into flow is not just something that happens on its own. It is not some magical, mysterious event that occurs when Self 2 gets in charge. Even the best Self 2 cannot get in the zone playing trumpet if it doesn’t know anything about the trumpet, music, or whatever. The Inner Game doesn’t just happens, it is planned for, developed, and, of course, the result of deliberate, focused practice.
Flow can come from, as the list indicates:When these conditions occur whether in the practice room, rehearsal hall, or on stage, the possibility for flow increases. Of course you still have to pay attention. We cannot forget in a performance that we are not observers. I remember a concert a few years ago when the band was playing an incredibly wonderful piece. I had a long passage of rests, probably at least 32 if not 64 measures. I fell into a listening zone (as opposed to a performance zone)- and almost missed my entry. But, as a result of working hard at knowing the piece and some of the above conditions, I heard the music moving to where I was to come it. It was intuitive as I picked up the horn and played. (But it was close!)
◦ Knowledge from learning (being taught), experience, and time. (What to do and how to do it.)
◦ Self-awareness and trust in Self 2 as you have grown and improved. (How well you are doing and where to go next.)
◦ Moving beyond the basics and pushing yourself to new heights that you know you can achieve. (High challenge and perception of your skills.)
◦ Focus, focus, focus, or mindfulness, mindfulness, mindfulness. (Freedom from distractions.)
The Inner Game and Flow both show that “attitude” in an important piece of moving in the right direction. Attitude and action go together. Most of the time before we get into flow it is the actions that propel us forward. The old saying is that it is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting. That can be called developing a habit, or experiencing the joys of what you want, rewiring the brain, or just plain grit. Attitude must come. If you continue to think you can’t- you won’t.
I found the following list on the Website “Play in the Zone” that we can take into the practice room and rehearsal hall to get us ready for Self 2 to work us into the zone.
9 Attitude Tweaks That Hold the Secret to Playing Your BestThree of those stand out for me this week.
1) Play freely. Don’t play to “not play badly”
2) Love the challenges
3) Accept what happens rather than getting frustrated or upset
4) Don’t care too much
5) Trust in yourself
6) Hear each note clearly before you play it
7) Be decisive, and commit fully to every phrase
8) Be relaxed about nerves
9) Focus on process, not outcome
• Play freely Don’t play to “not play badly.”
⁃ What a way for me to undermine and sabotage my goals, my practice, and especially my sound. I can only play as good as I can today, of course, but I have to play as good as I can today. It is not healthy to say “Well, as long as I don’t suck too badly…” I can’t go there. It won’t work. I will always suck.
• Love the challenges!
⁃ Sometimes the challenge is playing the Arban’s single tonguing exercises as well as I can play them, good sound, clarity, etc. Sometimes it is playing Arban’s Characteristic study #1 better than I did last time. Both are challenges. If I don’t take the challenge of the beginning of the Arban’s Book (or Clarke, Goldman, Getchell, etc.) I will never get to the challenges later in the books.
• Focus on process, not outcome!
⁃ Process does not mean doing it mechanically. It always means playing musically with good sound. Those are assumed. But how do I improve my skills if I don’t have a plan and a direction to what I am doing. Process, the steps and stages from here to there?
Which of the above are things that are important for you? These are all the marks of being a good student of your instrument. I will look at more of that next week and do some expanding on this.
Until then- build your attitude and enjoy what you are doing.